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How long can police keep a criminal case investigation open in Utah?

There are no legal limitations on the length of time that police can keep a criminal case investigation open in Utah. Some police investigations can continue for years. But most investigations remain open no longer than a few days or weeks. As a practical matter, there is no reason for an investigation to continue longer than the statute of limitations for the crime in question. Once the limitations period has expired, a prosecutor will be barred from filing charges.

The more serious the case, the more likely it is that police will devote the resources necessary to sustain a longer term investigation. Murder cases may remain open for years. But a shoplifting case is not likely to last any longer than it takes for a police officer to go to the store and write the citation.

If you believe you are under investigation, or if you have been charged with a crime, having the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer is vital. You should not speak with police or investigators until you have first consulted with an attorney. Contact us today to arrange for a confidential consultation with Utah criminal attorney Stephen Howard. Based in Salt Lake City, Mr. Howard provides offers legal services to clients throughout Utah.

Utah Statute of Limitations for Criminal Offenses

Misdemeanor Statute of Limitations

For most misdemeanor crimes, Utah Code 76-1-302 provides a two-year limitations period. This means that prosecution must be commenced (usually by filing a formal Information) within two years from the date the offense is committed. The Utah criminal code provides an exception for negligent homicide (a class A misdemeanor), allowing a four-year limitations period. Prosecution for an infraction must be commenced within one year from the date the offense is committed.

Felony Statute of Limitations

The general statute of limitations for felony crimes in Utah allows a four-year period in which the prosecution must be commenced. A charge of incest or forcible sexual abuse may be filed within eight years, so long as prosecution is commenced within four years of the time it is first reported to law enforcement. There are a number of other exceptions to the general four-year limitations period that are discussed below. But unless the felony case involves one of these exceptions, the case must be filed within four years from the time the offense was committed.

Exceptions Based on Fraud

Crimes involving fraud are sometimes hard to discover immediately. As a result, the legislature has extended the limitations period for crimes involving fraud or a breach of fiduciary duty as a material element. Utah Code 76-1-303 provides that even if the regular limitations period has run, prosecution for such a crime may be commenced within one year from the time it is reported to a law enforcement agency. But this provision cannot be used to extend the filing time by more than three years.

Exceptions for Violent Felonies Based on DNA Identification

With advancements in DNA identification technology, law enforcement agencies are sometimes able to identify a suspect in a criminal case years later by using DNA collected at the time the crime was committed. The Utah legislature has made exceptions to the standard statute of limitations period for "violent felonies" (as defined under Utah's Habitual Violent Offender law, Utah Code 76-3-203.5). For these violent felonies, prosecution may be commenced within one year of the time that the suspect's identity is determined using DNA identification.

Crimes with no Limitations Period

The Utah legislature has established a list of crimes considered so serious that there is no statute of limitations period. These crimes include (not an exhaustive list) murder, manslaughter, aggravated kidnapping, child kidnapping, rape, forcible sodomy, sodomy on a child, aggravated sexual abuse of a child, and aggravated sexual assault. Because the legislature has determined that these crimes are so serious, a prosecution may be commenced at any time.

Tolling the Statute of Limitations

Utah law provides that the limitations period for filing a criminal prosecution is tolled (put on hold) during any period of time in which the defendant is not within the borders of the State of Utah. This provision of the Utah Code is rarely used. But in circumstances where a defendant allegedly committed a crime in Utah and then moved to another state, a charge could theoretically be filed many years later - even after the normal statute of limitations period had expired. While the statute of limitations would not bar prosecution of such a case, it is possible that Constitutional Due Process or Speedy Trial protections might prevent such prosecutions.

Finding a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake Criminal Defense LawyerIf you are under investigation for a crime in Utah, or if charges have already been filed, an experienced criminal defense attorney can make all the difference.  Stephen Howard's track record includes not guilty verdicts and dismissals for some of the most serious crimes on the books in Utah. He has also successfully negotiated misdemeanor reductions and probation for clients facing prosecution for a wide variety of serious felony and misdemeanor offenses.

Contact us now to schedule an initial consultation with Salt Lake City defense attorney Stephen Howard.

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  • Selected Victories
  • Criminal Defense Trial AttorneyNot Guilty - Client was charged with aggravated assault for allegedly pointing handgun at and threatening another driver during a road rage incident. Defense investigation and analysis, combined with effective cross-examination at trial indicated the alleged victim was the initial aggressor and suported client's self-defense claim. Jury acquitted client at trial.
  • Drug Crimes Defense Attorney Utah Dismissed - Client was facing multiple cases involving first-degree felony drug distribution charges for allegedly selling to a confidential informant. Defense analysis of the case revealed fatal flaws in the prosecution case that ultimately resulted in a complete dismissal of all cases and charges.
  • Utah Expungement Attorney Salt Lake Davis Expunged - Client with prior conviction for violent felony was ineligible for expungement through the courts. A successful 2-step reduction restored expungement eligibility and ultimately led to the court's decision to grant the requested expungement.
  • Felony Attorney Utah Dismissed - Client facing first-degree felony charge and possible life in prison for child kidnapping. Full defense analysis of the case revealed critical legal flaws in the prosecution's case. When confronted with the defense legal analysis, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the case outright without trial.
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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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